Session 2010-11
Publications on the internet

Written evidence from Passenger Focus (AWC 17)

1 Introduction

1.1 Passenger Focus is the official, independent consumer organisation representing the interests of rail users nationally and bus, coach and tram users across England outside London.

1.1 Passenger Focus welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the Transport Committee’s investigation into the impact of the recent adverse weather. Our submission focuses in particular on the provision of information to rail and bus passengers during times of disruption.

2 Passenger attitudes and priorities


2.1 As part of its input into DfT’s High Level Output Specification (HLOS) process Passenger Focus commissioned research into passenger priorities for improvement. Around 4000 passengers were asked to rank 30 different aspects of rail travel 1 . The work was repeated in 2009 2 .

2 .2 The table below shows the top ten priorities in 2009 compared to 2007. It also shows the relative importance of each attribute ranking relative to punctuality - the higher the score, the greater priority passengers assign to that service aspect. This demonstrates the importance passengers attach to the provision of information in general and especially during times of disruption .

Service Improvement Preference



2009 score

Price of train tickets offer excellent value for money




A t least 19 out of 20 trains arrive on time




Sufficient train services at times I use the train




Passengers are always able to get a seat on the train




Company keeps passengers informed if train delay ed




Information on train times/platforms accurate/available




Maximum queue time no more than 2 mins




Trains consistently well maintained/excellent condition




Seating area on the train is very comfortable




Station staff whenever required




2.3 T he National Passenger Survey (NPS) conducted by Passenger Focus consistently shows that passengers do not believe disruption is well-handled by train companies. In the Autumn 2010 wave of research 3 , for instance , only 40% of passengers were satisfied with the way the train company dealt with delay. M ultivariate analysis of the dissatisfaction scores reveals that the way in which the industry manages delay is the biggest driver of dissatisfaction.

2.4 To understand why scores are so low and what practical steps could be taken to improve them, Passenger Focus established a ‘disruption panel’ to obtain accounts from passengers of how their train company handled disruption. The panel consisted of regular rail travellers who provided a short report of their experiences whenever disruption occurred, together with their thoughts about what might have been handled better . The panel ran from November 2009-November 2010 and some 2000 reports were received. The final report 4 was published in December 2010.

2.5 The report highlighted the following key themes:

· Many passengers who experience disruption feel that the rail industry shows too little respect for them, both as customers and as human beings. The impression is given that train companies treat disruption as a purely logistical challenge to be overcome before normal running resumes – that is, divorced from what passengers are thinking and experiencing in the meantime.

· Too many passengers experience patchy, inaccurate or conflicting information – and some get none at all. It shines through that having accurate, consistent information is vital, irrespective of the information channel used, whom you ask or where you ask.

· That the rail industry is poor at helping people through incidents once they have become caught up in them. Indeed, passengers cite actions that made things worse and lack of action that would have made the disruption more bearable. This manifests itself in two main ways: failure to provide accurate estimates of delay or incident duration; and failure to proactively help passengers understand what they should now do, whether it be specific advice or a range of options.

· That there is considerable scope to help passengers avoid disruptions in the first place, prevention being better than cure. Many passengers have the option to take a different route, travel from a station on a different line, or delay their journey to avoid getting caught up in disruption.

· That when train companies behave ‘considerately’, in particular when accurate information is shared in a proactive, timely way, passengers are often quite forgiving, even when the delay is lengthy.

2.6 The panel was reactivated briefly to provide some additional information on passengers’ perspectives on how train companies handled the poor weather in early December. Many passengers acknowledged the difficulty faced by the industry and accepted that delays were inevitable . However, the need for accurate and timely information was magnified at such times, especially prior to leaving home. The decision on whether to try to get to work in the first place can be based on the information provided by the industry.


2.7 In March 2010 Passenger Focus published research setting out bus passenger priorities for improvement 5 . Over 3800 bus passengers in England ( outside London ) were asked what their priorities for improvement were. The following table sets out the top-15 (out of 30) criteria.



More buses are on time or within five minutes of when they are scheduled to arrive


Buses run more frequently at times when you want to use the bus


All passengers are able to get a seat on the bus for the duration of their journey


Tickets and passes are available that entitle you to travel on all bus services in your local area, not just those operated by a specific bus company


Buses go to a wider range of destinations in your local area


Bus fares, tickets and passes offer better value for money


All bus drivers are helpful and have a positive attitude


Accurate timetable and route information is available at all bus stops


Tickets and passes are available that entitle you to travel on all types of public transport in your local area, not just buses


All bus stops have a well-maintained shelter


Personal security while waiting for the bus is improved through the use of CCTV cameras at all bus stops


Electronic displays showing the correct length of time until the next bus is due to arrive are available at all bus stops


Personal security onboard the bus is improved through the use of CCTV cameras on all buses


The correct route number and destination is clearly displayed on the outside of all buses


All buses drive at an appropriate speed and are free from jolting


2.8 More punctual buses is passengers’ top priority but information again features prominently – with the provision of basic information at bus stops being 8 th and electronic ‘count-down’ information being 12 th .

2.9 This research also looked at the extent to which passengers’ expectations were being met by the bus services they used. We found that passenger expectations were being met for the majority of attributes at the bus stop, with the exceptions being information on fares and electronic displays showing the waiting time until the next bus.

3 Response to disruption in 2010 and 2011

3.1 Passenger Focus gave evidence to the initial Winter Resilience Review (chaired by David Quarmby CBE). In this we recognised the efforts made by the rail industry in keeping services running under extreme conditions – though we felt both opening hours and services had been cut back too far in Kent in early January 2010.

3.2 We supported the use of contingency rail timetables (providing they are properly planned and of benefit to passengers rather than just adding extra time to existing timetables in order to ease punctuality figures). However, we want these contingency timetables to be more consistent across the network and well communicated. We were concerned that information was not always available to passengers, either nationally or locally. Our top priority was for Network Rail to get the revised timetables and train-running information onto the industry’s data systems in time to help travellers

3.3 Following further disruption in late 2010, David Quarmby was invited to carry out an audit of his previous report. As part of this Passenger Focus monitored the quality of information available to rail and bus passengers across England . Th is subsequent report 6 found that:

3.3.1 For rail:

· The National Rail Enquiries (NRE) website appears to have coped well with very high volume . However, th e online real - time journey planner on the NRE website did not show correct information for some train operating companies (TOCs)

· The online journey planners on TOC and third-party websites did not generally reflect the contingency timetables in operation

· Tickets continued to be available for sale online for many trains that would not run

· Station displays appear to have reflected formal contingency timetables

· Station displays and online Live Departure Boards did not always keep pace with events

· The NRE call centres appear to have provided good information, but queuing times of 11or 12 minutes were common.

3.3.2 For Bus

· The major national journey planning websites (Traveline and Transport Direct) provided varying degrees of disruption information and passenger advice, with the journey planning systems themselves returning information from the normal timetables. [NB systems do not provide a ‘live’ journey planning service]

· Bus operators’ websites generally provided advice, assuming you persevered to locating details which applied to your specific journey. However, even within the large owning groups the situation varied from subsidiary to subsidiary and journey planning systems returned information from the normal timetables, irrespective of the disruption.

· Passenger Transport Executive (PTE) websites also provided reasonably comprehensive advice. However, journey planning systems again returned information from the normal timetables, irrespective of the disruption.

4. Lessons Learnt and further action required

4.1 The recent weather-related disruption showed, in our opinion, that progress is being made in the way the rail industry handled delays. For example, the National Rail Enquiries website functioned normally , despite very high usage.

4.2 It also highlighted, again, weaknesses in information provision and that, while excellent examples have been reported, a culture of looking after passengers when things go wrong is not yet second-nature across either industry. In many ways this demonstrated what our research (as set out in section 3) found.

4.3 We believe there are six areas in which the rail industry should concentrate effort in the next 12 months:

· T here must be maximum commitment to the project to use the national real-time database, Darwin , as the data source for station Customer Information Systems (CIS). Having a single data source will help ensure a consistent message.

· There must be maximum commitment to compliance with the industry’s Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) on passenger information during disruption (PIDD) ACOP – the spirit and not just the letter

· T he industry must carefully consider the cultural and process implications of our finding that passengers want greater respect, recognition of their plight and action to look after them when something has gone wrong. This is an area about which current initiatives are, we believe, largely silent.

· The industry must routinely measure and report the standard of information that is ultimately presented to passengers – quantitatively and qualitatively. If this does not happen, the industry will not know whether it is making progress; and it will not understand the remaining deficiencies.

· The industry must move to a system in which amendments to the timetable, whether for ‘today’, ‘tomorrow’ or any subsequent day show in downstream systems shortly after the train company and Network Rail have agreed them – that is, moving away from a single overnight download. At present there is a 12 hours plus delay between a train company making a decision about what it will run ‘tomorrow’ and that information showing in real time journey enquiry systems . In the short term, the industry should set a goal that journey planners will be correct for the following day from 2100 – i.e. in time for passengers to check their morning journey before going to bed.

· That third parties offering interactive journey planning systems, which are invariably linked to ticket booking engines, must in future ‘return’ options based on real time running information. This should be the case whether they are provided on behalf of a train company or as a stand-alone business. Not doing so means that passengers will continue to be provided with inaccurate information and passengers will continue to buy tickets on trains that do not exist.

4.4 It is harder to come up with generic recommendations for bus travel given its far more local/regional structure. However, there are a number of areas that we feel could usefully be addressed:

· Potential over-reliance on local media.

Many people were advised to listen to local TV and radio for announcements. However, in our experience these focussed on rail and roads rather than bus. While this is perhaps understandable given the sheer amount of detail involved , consideration might be given to how such information can be provided to media outlets or, at least, to relaying a contact point where further details can be found.

· Websites

Our experience with websites was very ‘hit and miss’. Some were up to date and helpful while others simply reflected the normal service provision. There is scope for the sharing of best practice here – even if only company-wide to begin with.

· Explore the potential of new media

Bus and train companies have increasingly been turning to social media (facebook and twitter) to provide details of service changes or significant delays. Our ‘mystery shopping’ found various examples of important information being provided through these channels – e.g. Diamond Buses in the Midlands informed passengers that services would cease from 10pm one particular evening. The same mystery shopping also found London Midland and Chiltern train companies making good use of twitter and facebook.

February 2011

[1] Passengers' priorities for improvements in rail services . July 2007

[2] Passengers’ priorities for improvements in rail services. March 2010

[3] National Passenger Survey (NPS). Passenger Focus. Autumn 2010.

[4] Delays and Disruption, Rail Passengers have their say. Passenger Focus. December 2010

[5] Bus passenger priorities for improvement. Passenger Focus. March 2010

[6] Passenger information during snow disruption. Passenger Focus. December 2010